Where do I go from here: the informational interview experience

This past week I had the amazing opportunity to participate in my first informational interview. “Don’t you have a job already…?” you ask.  Why, yes I do.  However as many of you know, AmeriCorps members (myself included) give one year of service to a nonprofit organization, government agency, or school to help that institution build capacity.  With that being said, AmeriCorps members gain a tremendous amount of skills, knowledge, and experience during their service-year that pretty much puts them at near  expert-level status in their area of focus. This particular blog post is dedicated to individuals everywhere who are about to embark on the journey of job searching, who are about to ask themselves one simple question:  where do I go from here?

My answer is simple:  go on informational interviews.

An informational interview is an opportunity to network with individuals from organizations, agencies, and companies with which you are looking to gain contact.  It’s a great way to meet people in a professional sense, learn about what they do for their organization, as well as act as a representative of your organization.

My informational interview experience

I recently participated in an informational interview in with an agency in Montgomery County that offers programming to serve the needs of foreign-born parents living in the area.  I entered the experience with a few specific goals.  First, I found an agency that offers services within my field of interest: intercultural communication and community development.  I researched the specific programs and clients that were served by the agency so that I had background knowledge from which to pull my questions.  I prepared a list of questions asking about programs and how other individuals can get involved.  My particular interview was actually a group interview which gave me the advantage of gaining the perspective of three individuals rather than one.  I also made sure to include questions asking about how each person ended up in their respective positions.

I wanted to attend this interview to gain perspective on different ways to practically apply my educational experience outside of the classroom.  I was also specifically interested in volunteering for a program offered by the agency.  I used the opportunity both to learn about volunteer opportunities as well as to learn about the agency.  I also looked at it as an opportunity for individuals within the agency to learn about me and what I do as a Regional Coordinator for Volunteer Maryland.

Benefits to the informational interview: a few tips

Networking for partnership:  If you’re not necessarily looking for an employment opportunity, setting up an informational interview with key players is a great way to learn about other organizations with which you may be interested in partnering.  Don’t go into the informational interview without doing your research!  Knowing who to talk to is very important to making an informational interview a success.  If you have specific goals for partnership, write them down. Ask questions pertaining to the organization’s partnership goals.  Ask questions about the specific programs or services that are of interest to your organization’s clients.  Come prepared with information to offer about programs or services that may benefit the organization with which you are interviewing.

Networking for employment:  If you are looking for a potential employment opportunity, informational interviews are a great way to learn about the steps it takes to obtain a specific position and are a way to make contacts within a specific organization or institution for which you want to work.  The main thing to remember is to DO YOUR RESEARCH!  First, establish what you are looking for in a potential employer.  Know your field of interest and look for potential employers within that field.  Prepare a list of questions about the organization and about your interviewer.  Take this opportunity to learn as much as possible about specific interest areas.  Bring business cards and an updated resume.  Finally, go in with an open mind; many people don’t get asked to participate in informational interviews and are flattered at the prospect. Also, know that because many people don’t get approached to participate in informational interviews, they may have a different idea of how the interview should play out than you do. Make sure to state in the beginning your goals for setting up the meeting and mention that you would like to ask a few questions at some point during the meeting.

Check out these resources for Informational Interviewing Tips!

Informational Interviews: Do’s and Don’ts

Mastering the Informational Interview

Getting in the Door

Tips for Informational Interviews

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